Letters From the West

Antiquities Act has bipartisan history (with video)

Caribou-Targhee National Forest with Tetons in the background

Idaho’s Yellowstone Caldera area near Mesa Falls with Tetons in the background

When President George Bush protected more than 195,280 square miles of land and sea in three national monuments in the Pacific in 2009 there was no outcry from Republicans about an abuse of power.

Presidents of both parties have regularly used the law that gives the wide powers to protect historic, geological and natural resources. But westerners often have chaffed at protections that came simply from a president’s signature.

Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s efforts to identify potential national monuments had largely gone unnoticed until the Idaho Statesman report based on Interior documents it obtained. The documents showed that Interior had drafted proclamations designating the Boulder-White Clouds and the Island Park Caldera around Mesa Falls as national monuments.

Kempthorne’s staff had also studied the Owyhee Canyonlands, the South Fork of the Snake River, the Bonanza-Custer area near Sunbeam, the lower Salmon River, Grandmothers Mountain in northern Idaho and the Lewis and Clark Trail area in north central Idaho. Though never made public they certainly were not surprising.

The Antiquities Act of 1906, sponsored by a Republican has long had bipartisan support and has protected areas since Teddy Roosevelt used it to protect the Grand Canyon. The law gives the President the power to protect areas by simply signing a proclamation.
National monuments are managed by the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management or United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
“There is no template for a national monument designation,” said John Freemuth, Boise State University political science professor and an expert on public lands.
President Calvin Coolidge signed the proclamation creating Craters of the Moon National Monument after a campaign of the then strongly Republican Idaho Statesman in 1928.

Mesa Falls on the Henry's Fork of the Snake River near Ashton. (USDA photo)

Mesa Falls on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River near Ashton. (USDA photo)

Kempthorne’s study came after the Idaho Statesman asked its readers for recommendations for national monuments. The editors picked Boise retired Pharmacist Kathy Steinbach’s choice, Mesa Falls.

In 2010 when a similar Interior document listing several areas worthy of further protection was leaked 15 House Republicans, including Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson urged more openness in the process. In 2011 Interior Secretary Ken Salazar put out a public list of areas that deserve protection that included the Boulder-White Clouds, the San Juan Islands in Washington, and Gold Butte in Nevada from Kempthorne’s list along with other areas.

Since then a host of bills have been introduced, including one by Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador, which would limit the President discretion to designate national monuments under the authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act. The House Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the Antiquities Act Tuesday.

“Congress gave the president the power,” said Freemuth. “If they don’t like it they can take it away.”

Here are some of the  areas national the Kempthorne Interior Department studied:

– Cross Bar Cooperative Management Area, 11,834 acres north of Amarillo, Texas.
– Bill Williams River-Buckskin Mountains, 196,000 acres, near Havasu City, Ariz.
– Potomac River, 2,093 acres, Northern Virginia, Southern Md.
– Lake Vermillion Islands, 1,224 acres, near Tower, Minn.
– Gold Butte, 350,000 acres, near Las Vegas, Nev.
– San Juan Islands, 955 acres, near Seattle, Wash.
– Big Morongo Canyon Preserve, 31,000 acres, near Morongo Valley, Calif.
– Island Park Caldera/Mesa Falls, 700,000 acres near Ashton, Idaho, and Yellowstone National Park
– Boulder-White Cloud Mountains, 500,000 acres near Stanley, Idaho

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West